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Guest blog 1 from Tandem Studios: Managing your online reputation

8 Jul

Dave Dunlay, Managing Director and Content Producer, Tandem Studios

The online world moves quickly. Before we are aware of it, reputational damage may already have been done. Many businesses are afraid of negative comments being online – and that’s the reason why they don’t want to be involved with social media. But engaging with your customers online can be a really powerful way to deliver excellent customer service.

If an issue pops up in a social media forum such as Facebook it’s important to:

  • quickly acknowledge the complaint or problem,
  • deal with the issue quickly,
  • communicate the resolution of the complaint,

All in the same forum where the initial complaint was made.

Online complaint resolution provides a lasting example of how you took the issue seriously and dealt with it. Many organisations follow the first two steps but take the conversation offline in order to resolve the complaint. Unfortunately that means nobody knows what a great job you’ve done!

Here are five ways to use social media to deliver great customer service.

  1. Respond and resolve issues transparently.
  2. Provide information e.g. ‘how to’ demonstrations or seminars.
  3. Offer customer rewards through giveaways.
  4. Get constant feedback from customers.
  5. Provide regular, timely updates on your company or organisation.

Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the online world. If you don’t respond or occupy the online space someone else will do it for you.

Do you own the domain names associated with your organisation?

Are there unofficial social media pages set up by your employees or members of the public that look like they represent your company or organisation?

To avoid a nasty online surprise, it’s important that all your staff members, volunteers etc…understand how and where they should comment online and that they understand the difference between commenting as your representatives and as private individuals – for some roles there is no distinction. In order to clearly communicate this it’s often useful to have a simple policy that everyone knows about.

Here is a great website that has dozens of polices on social media use from small and large companies around the world:

If you have a question about social media or content marketing email me at

What are you going to do Now?

27 Aug

Ever thought your smartphone would know you better than you know yourself? Well it looks like that day’s coming sooner than you think.

We all know the online world is never dull and it’s been a packed year so far. Facebook went public and many who bought high are feeling low. Privacy is top of mind with Google and Facebook getting massive slaps on the wrist from the US Federal Trade Commission. Google got a $22.5m fine for Safari tracking and Facebook agreed to 20 years worth of privacy audits. In a world where each of us is the product on sale, privacy will always be a concern.  Twitter has been upsetting developers no end and there’s been the launch of a raft of new channels – so quite a lot to keep up with.

Ultimately though, it’s the subject of privacy that will, I think, form the basis of our future conundrum concerning the latest predictive technologies. The video below – if you haven’t caught it yet – highlights Google Now. Essentially, ‘Now’ helps you along your day, knowing as it does, so much about you. Predictive technologies that anticipate our movements or make suggestions for us – all very Minority Report – are the way the wind is blowing at the moment.

Interestingly, your smartphone might already be ahead of you, knowing what you’re going to do before you do it. Recently published research from the UK’s University of Birmingham, captures a way to predict where you’ll be in the next 24 hours from the data trail on your phone  – even if you spontaneously break from routine and head on holiday – moving us gently from a ‘Minority Report’ predictive experience straight into the Matrix.

It also presents all of us with a new challenge concerning the data we use. For practitioners, the ability to anticipate issues and trends has always been part of the job. Research, audits and environmental scans have long informed strategy but critical listening, semantic analysis and long-term online engagement have speeded up and improved the process no end. Using available data we can predict, with some certainty, the rising issues, giving us the opportunity to deal with them before they actually become an issue – and certainly long before they bloom into a fully-fledged crisis. And there’s the challenge – how well do we take care of the data generated and its sources? What policies do we have in place to make sure that privacy is respected and maintained?

A useful, measurable digital strategy supports and informs an organisation’s overarching communication strategy. Data analysis and visualisation should be at the forefront of our pre-planning stage, not so we can try to predict the future (fascinating as that might be), but rather so that we can form an accurate understanding of ourselves and  our communities. Issues and concerns that could affect our stakeholders can be dealt with, developing the critical relationships we need to sustain in order to maintain our licence to operate.

We’re moving first into a reputation economy, then on to a relationship economy. Prediction, speed and engagement will all be important in this new space, but most important of all will be the ability to understand, interpret and act on the information that’s put before us.


Issues and crisis management – online lessons

13 Apr

By Guest Blogger Rob Crabtree (PRINZ Fellow and Trainer)

We all know that an issue we are dealing with can quickly turn into a crisis we were not expecting and for which we most probably are not prepared. Our reputation suffers accordingly. A colleague in Chicago, Nick Kalm, recently shared his views on an issue that developed into a very embarrassing situation for an individual – highly relevant given recent email messaging around the corridors of power in New Zealand.

This is what he wrote and the lessons that should be learned from it:

Don’t pick fights with those who…have internet access

There’s a story rocketing around the PR agency world about a PR firm that finds itself in a very ugly and avoidable fight with a prominent blogger. It’s a great and timeless cautionary tale.

There’s an old saying about not picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.  Of course, this is meant to suggest caution about doing battle with a member of the media.

But with most newspapers, radio and TV news in decline, along with the rapid ascent of bloggers, I think the saying should be updated to the headline of this post.

In this case, the PR firm sent a pitch to a blogger who didn’t care to receive it.  Blogger said so (in typical blogger way) and got a snarky reply from the pitcher at the PR firm.  Blogger (who, by the way, had over 160,000 followers — compare that to the readership of your average daily newspaper!) sent back another typical blogger reply (a bit flip and edgy).

This was followed by a foolish “reply all” from the PR firm (that included said blogger).  Well, after this bonehead maneuver (which nearly anyone could have done), the blogger apparently gave the PR firm VP a chance to take his comment back, but, no, instead, he decided to double down on snark.

And, gee, what do you think the blogger decided to do about this whole exchange?  Publish it!   Sigh….

Setting aside how this reflects on the whole PR agency world, it was just plain dumb to think that this firm could do (inept) battle with a blogger and come out a winner.

So, what are the lessons here?

Lesson #1 — Treat respectable bloggers (especially those with six-figures worth of followers!) with at least as much respect as you’d treat a reporter from The New York Times.

Lesson #2 — Assume that anything and everything that you put in writing to/about a blogger will find its way to said blogger (and everyone who follows him/her…and so on….and so on).

Lesson #3 — Once the damage, is done, the only thing left to do is give an unqualified apology to the blogger (and the world), and give your staff some remedial training.


Learn more about how you can avoid an issue from becoming a crisis and managing a crisis situation (if it occurs) at Rob’s professional development courses on 24 April in Auckland.

Issues Management

Crisis Management

Rob Crabtree has over 25 years of experience to share.A public relations practitioner for 27 years, he is one of our most experienced consultants and trainers. Rob has worked in corporate management roles, as well as running his own consultancy. He was a radio and television broadcaster for 17 years. Rob is a Past President and Life Member of PRINZ.

Would John Key take up the World View challenge?

21 Feb

With it being election year in New Zealand this year, I’ve been pondering what shape the online campaigning is likely to take in the months ahead.

Last time round, all the parties began to make use of the online space to connect with voters and this year they have a whole new suite of technologies that could – and should – be pressed into service. I for one will be monitoring their use – effective or otherwise – of mobile communication but in the meantime, I’ve been watching out to see if there are sufficient requests for John Key to take part in the new  YouTube/Aljazeera partnership, World View, currently attempting to bring world leaders to account through citizen interviews via the web. US President Obama has already fronted up, UK Prime Minister David Cameron will walk into the web spotlight in the next couple of days (all questions to be posted by Tuesday, either as video upload, tweet or text) and the platform also invites users to nominate who they would like to see interviewed next.

The thinking behind the platform is provided in YouTube’s blog and although it is early days, such citizen powered interviews may substantially increase voter engagement over time. Whether our own leaders generate enough global interest for this webslot remains to be seen but the platform certainly flattens out communications processes a little more.

The main reason for sharing this in the PR and communications space is that I suspect it is only a matter of time before other types of leaders – from commerce and industry as well as the political sphere – find themselves propelled into a citizen-enabled spotlight and called to account regarding their business processes, organisational thinking and user relationships. And, as the navigators in the space, we should be helping them be prepared for web interviews, tweetchats and the other citizen engagements they are likely to encounter in the very near future.

I, Guinea Pig…

1 Feb

If you’re wondering where things are ‘at’ this year, then spare a thought for all things 3D. Today saw the official launch of security holograms at one of London’s airports – Manchester had them a day or two ago – and Nintendo have had a successful premier for their 3D gaming system that doesn’t require users to wear uncomfortable glasses. So cool apparently is Nintendo’s 3DS, that salivating pundits are predicting smartphone systems and other mobile playgear will be incorporating similar technology by the time we get to 2012.

But the reality – virtual or otherwise – is that all things 3D are simply a precursor to an even bigger Internet of Things, which has been discussed and debated for many years now but which inches closer by the day.  Mobile health consulting, mobile payment systems, geolocation services – all of these things we take pretty much for granted and all of us, willing or not, are in some ways guinea pigs for the virtual experimentation of companies, brands, organisations and governments.

As communicators, we need to be right in the middle of the playground and comfortable with pretty much all of this gadgetry as it already has a significant impact on the way we interact with our stakeholders, build relationships and create the understanding necessary to maintain our organisation’s licence to operate.  We also need to understand how our stakeholder experience of techno-wizardry is going to affect interaction before we rush in and load up the toys. Take Holly and Graeme (the holographic security announcers in London).  As a passenger, standing at the back of the kind of long, tedious security lines you get at airports, such cheery messages from smiling holograms might, in the end, simply become irritating. If the line stalls, or there are extensive delays, the hologram is only programmed with a simple set of  ‘one-way’ messages. It can neither respond or react to stakeholder problems or concerns so in itself, it becomes an issue in the making.  Personally, I find it incredible that despite the listening capabilities of many of the available technologies, organisations continue to push them into ‘top-down-one-way’ service.

This year may have a futuristic feel to it, with mobile tagging, 3D, interactive games and check-ins galore, but if, as communicators, we are going to make these tools work as part of our stakeholder engagement, then we must first be the guinea pigs – a little ethnographic research goes a long way, even if it does mean becoming Mayor or playing Farmville, Cityville or Angry Birds ourselves…

Thinking the Unthinkable

13 Jan

As in 2010, with the devastation caused by the Haitian earthquake, 2011 has begun on a disastrous note with the Queensland floods drowning cities and towns, bringing death, destruction and disbelief in their wake.

Quite rightly, coverage has been – and continues to be – extensive as the waters rise hour by hour. The consequences of this latest natural disaster will be felt throughout this coming year and beyond, along with the ongoing – but less publicised – floods in the Philippines, caused by heavy rains that began on New Year’s Eve. More than a million people have been affected there, with 40 confirmed deaths and many others unaccounted for or missing.

In 2010, New Zealand had more than its fair share of disasters, with the Christchurch earthquake followed by the tragedy at Pike River and again, the consequences of both those events will be felt for many months ahead.

As communicators, our role in a crisis is clear. What tends to be forgotten is the sustained effort required after a disaster has ‘peaked’ and is replaced in the mainstream media by the next event, happening or mishap. The global attention span is short. We are reminded of past events at anniversary intervals, such as this week’s ‘year in Haiti’ reports, but the problems still exist. For the most part, once the initial ‘shock and awe’ events have peaked, so too does mainstream media interest. Thankfully for those involved, online conversations are longer lived – for example, the #eqnz Twitter hashtag continues to act as an important information focal point for those affected by the Christchurch earthquake, particularly with ongoing aftershocks, reinstatement of property issues and community concern as to when things might start to be fixed.

Most practitioners will have to handle crisis and post-crisis communications at some point in their career. Some crises will be of significant magnitude, others smaller but of no less significance to those involved. While emphasis is rightly given to pre-crisis planning, drills, test reaction times and channels, the process of ‘being prepared’ often fails to include planning the effective communication of the actions needed or being taken to address the consequences of the events that befall us.

Extreme events are occurring with unnerving and monotonous regularity – last night in Brazil floods and mudslides have left over 250 dead. The immediate tragedy for those most closely involved will – in our global society – affect all of us in the long term whether that affect is on rebuilding our homes, food price rises and shortages or simply where we choose to – or are physically able – to live.

With that in mind, I’d like to share a couple of New Year’s resolutions that I think would be useful for every public relations and communications practitioner:

  • Get Fit: audit your own skills, competencies and abilities. Do you know enough about the communications channels, possibilities and pitfalls we must deal with on a daily basis to allow you to cope in an emergency and its aftermath?
  • Practice: Think ahead, undertake risk and issues audits; plan, practice and devise long-term consequence strategies so that both stakeholders and organisations are served with care, compassion, understanding and real problem-solving actions at a time when they are going to need these things most.

And if, like me, you feel more than a little frustrated and helpless watching all these things unfold and want to do something real and practical to help, then the very least we can do is put our hands in our pockets. I’ve added donation links to organisations supporting the events I’ve mentioned and they are listed below. If you have more to add, please let me know or add it to the comment thread.

Red Cross NZ – Australia, Haiti, Christchurch

World Vision – Haiti

ChildFund NZ – Sri Lanka

Will you sink or swim in a crisis?

11 Nov

A hardy bunch of 15 PR practitioners had our “crisis readiness” well tested in a two hour crisis simulation exercise run by Australian crisis expert Grant Strudwick. Grant is executive manager for crisis and security consulting from Control Risks, a global risk consultancy that deals with issues like kidnapping, product tampering, industrial disasters and natural disaster. For example, Grant helped a number of international clients who were caught up in the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 2008 in which 179 people including 22 foreigners were killed in a three day bomb and gun attack.

Grant gave us his take on risk and crisis management and then we divided into three groups of five to do a crisis simulation exercise. We became the managers (managing director, HR, PR, sales and marketing, and production manager) of a food company and reports started coming in from consumers to our customer service centre of a potentially fatal problem with one of our products.

As with most breaking crises we didn’t get all the information immediately. Grant delivered new information in dribs and drabs as the exercise progressed, changing the
complexion of the crisis. Using a crisis process provided we worked through known facts/assumptions, worst case scenario/likely scenario, stakeholders that needed to be addressed and actions required.

Under pressure from angry customers, lawyers, and the media we needed to quickly assess questions like: Is the problem isolated or widespread? Was the contamination accidental or deliberate? Do we need to put a hold on sales – and if so, in just one store where the problem was reported or nationwide? Who do we need to communicate with – customers, distributors, staff, lawyers, police, overseas parent company, insurers, journalists? What do we say? If we are going to get product off supermarket shelves, how do we ensure it happens? How do we maintain production and revenue? How do we protect the company’s reputation? How do we deal with the conflict between keeping business going and safeguarding consumers?

Needless to say there was a lot of animated discussion within the groups and we stopped twice for the groups to report back on how they were handling the crisis as it evolved. There were lots of lessons: One of them was make sure you “do the right thing to ensure the health and safety of customers, staff and others” – in other words it is more important for organisations in a crisis to prioritise health and safety above the short term losses that may result from withdrawing products/services or paying for the resources to get the crisis sorted asap. Be wary of any lawyers, sales or finance people whose counsel is to deny /evade or continue trading in an effort to minimise liability or business losses. Another lesson is that it is good to have a crisis plan – but it is much more important to run regular crisis exercises to make sure the plan works.

Grant said he had worked with organisations which had a crisis plan in place but had failed when a crisis struck because they couldn’t put it into practice; conversely organisations without a crisis plan had survived crises because of good teamwork. He said the long term goal for an organisation after a crisis is recovery. Recovery of reputation and of business to a level that is as good if not better than pre-crisis. Many organisations nowadays equip themselves to deal with crises, through risk
management, planning and simulation exercises. Nowhere near as many deal well with the long term recovery phase.

Tim Marshall

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